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Chief Everything Officer – the changing role of the CIO

March 18, 2014 • Opinion

The IT industry is changing faster than ever, thanks to trends such as the cloud, big data, and mobile applications. What does this mean for CIOs? How is their role changing?

Mark Ridley, regional director for Africa, NetApp. (Image source: NetApp)

Mark Ridley, regional director for Africa, NetApp. (Image source: NetApp)

The changing landscape is forcing CIOs to re-examine their role and contribution. We’re going through another IT revolution now, driven not by a single innovation but by several. According to a Gartner survey of CIOs,   mobile (70%), big data/analytics (55%), social media (54%), and the cloud (51%) will be the technologies which have the biggest impact on the industry in the next decade.

Are CIOs Still Relevant?

IT is changing the game and, suddenly, it matters more than ever. But what about the role of the CIO?

Some still see their role as managing fleets of PCs, rooms full of servers, the networks that connect them, and the software they run. However, the new wave of innovation will make all that IT infrastructure a commodity, perhaps even a function of purchasing or facilities management. Infrastructure will go the way of the desktop computer, offering no competitive advantage and available off the shelf.

As a result, companies will need to embrace cloud technology in different ways, picking and choosing the right mix of public, private, and hybrid cloud systems for different needs.

Creating Business Value

To ensure the maximum return on investment, “More CIOs will find themselves leading in areas outside of traditional IT,” according to the Gartner survey. “They are starting to assume responsibility for hunting for digital opportunities and harvesting value.”

This is reflected in the changing status of the job. Already, the majority of CIOs (67%) have significant leadership responsibilities outside IT, a significant increase in just five years.

These new responsibilities and opportunities fall into a number of distinct roles with individual CIOs combining them to create their own unique portfolio of responsibilities. The roles are:

Chief Digital Officer

The chief digital officer is already a recognised role in many businesses. One in five CIOs already acts in this capacity, according to Gartner, leading digital commerce and channels and being responsible for evolving the business to embrace digital transformation, while  5-6% of companies actually have someone with this title.

Better for CIOs to embrace this role and stay relevant by delivering digital initiatives from the IT department. To do this, argues The Economist, they need to learn to stop being an obstacle to be sidestepped and start presenting themselves as a partner who can make things happen.

Chief Outsourcing Officer

The new wave of technology commoditises things that were previously thought of as core competencies. For example, databases can be hosted in the cloud and line-of-business applications are available as a service. Even services such as application development can be outsourced and handled offshore to save money.

CIOs need to retune their definition of a “core competency”. A key role for the CIO is deciding what can be outsourced and what must be kept in-house. IT organisations need to focus on activities that add value or differentiate. Divest yourself of anything that does not.

CIOs must also orchestrate a mosaic of suppliers and ensure consistent levels of reliability, security, and performance. The portfolio of suppliers may or may not include in-house teams and IT assets such as data centres.

Chief Cloud Broker

Businesses don’t “move to the cloud”; their data does. CIOs will become adept at evaluating, adopting, and orchestrating a collection of cloud applications, services, and providers, whether they are in a private, public, or hybrid cloud. They’re also going to need a way to ensure that data in the cloud is secure and well managed, moving from multiple management tools to a single, integrated system that can manage their entire environment.

Historically, solving technology issues meant build it or buy it for the IT team, brokering cloud services provides a third option. It changes the focus from technology to service relationships. It isn’t necessarily what technology is being used for that’s important, but, instead, on whom the business is relying to deliver the solution.

Chief Insight Officer

Everyone is talking about big data. CIOs can turn it from a buzz phrase into reality by adding value to raw data. As a civilisation, we’re collecting and consuming more and more data. IDC estimates a 44-times increase in data between 2009 and 2020. But collecting data isn’t the same as using it effectively.

CIOs can position themselves as the collators, providers, and analysts of this information. The IT department can become an organisation’s intelligence agency, providing insights, analysis, and warnings that help the rest of the organisation make smarter decisions.

The vast majority of executives would welcome this. They feel that they could make better decisions if they had tools to turn existing data into usable insights, according to an Economist survey.

Chief Innovation Officer

Perhaps the biggest opportunity, certainly the boldest, is for CIOs to become chief innovation officers, leading the way to new business opportunities and new ways of doing business. In other words, they can transform themselves into business engineers rather than IT engineers.

CIOs report a high degree of interest in and knowledge of emerging technology, according to research by the Economist Intelligence Unit. They also report a positive impact on their businesses from investments in emerging technology.

Learning to harness the power of disruptive technology is the answer to the “innovator’s dilemma,” which threatens successful incumbent businesses. CIOs can incubate new ideas and pilot new technology in a way that other business units cannot, and CIOs embrace this new role. Today, half (49%) of CIOs say they are “well positioned to promote ‘game-changing’ innovations.” Only a quarter (26%) say that they were able to do so three years ago.

 Mark Ridley, regional director of Africa, NetApp

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